As had been the case since the earliest days of the Cold War, the Pentagon had air assets on alert the morning of 9/11. But for all of the time and money invested in protecting the homeland from airborne threats, none of the American fighters were able to intercept the airliners that had been hijacked by terrorists on that terrible day.
This exclusive WATM video explores the chain of events, how information was passed between commands, and how jets wound up in the wrong pieces of sky only to arrive over the WTC and Pentagon too late to prevent the attacks or effect the outcomes in any way.
First the good news: Despite Internet memes about Putin having Turkey for dinner last week, the chances are low that Armageddon will be on the menu any time soon.
In other words, the chances that World War III will erupt this holiday season are mighty slim because a Turkish F-16 fighter shot down a Russian Federation Su-24 Fencer M bomber last Tuesday after it apparently violated Turkey’s airspace.
But does that mean Russia will forgive and forget? Hardly. Comments by Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin indicate he is not only infuriated by events, he’s also willing to escalate Russian military presence in Syria as well defend Russian national pride.
Here are three reasons why things could still get out of hand very quickly in one of the world’s most volatile places:
1. In Putin’s world, nobody shoots down a Russian plane and gets away with it
Russian aircraft routinely test the limits of different nation’s sovereign airspace – including the U.S. and Britain. Those missions are absolutely designed and principally intended to appeal to Russian pride and national identity, as well as show the world that Russia military power is a force worthy of respect.
But even though we scramble fighters to intercept the bombers, the U.S. and other NATO nations don’t shoot them down. Turkey did, principally because in recent weeks Russian warplanes bombed Syrian rebels who are also Turkmen, an ethnic group considered kinsmen of the Turkish people.
What’s more, the rebels killed one of the Russian plane’s crew members as well as a Russian Marine who was part of the search-and-rescue operation.
To put it bluntly, Putin is pissed off by the shoot-down and what he considers a war crime committed against Russian fighting men. In addition, he describes what happened a provocative act on the part of Turkey, hence his “stab in the back” comment.
As far as the Russian government is concerned, their men are heroes. Lt. Col. Oleg Peshkov, the dead Fencer pilot, posthumously received the Hero of the Russian Federation award “for heroism, courage and valor in the performance of military duty,” the Kremlin announced today. Both Alexander Pozynich, the Russian Marine killed during SAR operations, and the surviving Fencer co-pilot Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin both received the Order of Courage, the Kremlin said.
Yes, Lavrov says there will be no war between Russia and Turkey. However, the Russian president is also well-known for practicing the old maxim about revenge being a dish best served cold – and Putin has already amply proved he has no concern about civilian casualties when Russians fight their wars.
True, the protest could have been a good old-fashioned exercise in agitprop – as far back as the Soviet era Kremlin employees were often organized into groups for “spontaneous protest.”
But Russian social media is white-hot with comments like “f**k the Turks” and calls for revenge. There is even a parody of the Eiffel Tower peace symbol that went viral after the Paris attacks by Daesh – except the Russian version has the silhouette of a Su-24 with its fuselage and wings where the lines of the peace symbol should be, superimposed on the Russian flag.
So, Russians fury toward Turkey is also linked to fierce Russian nationalism. Consequently, the shoot-down is an incident that will not just blow over with the Russian people – and Putin knows that.
3. Syria is getting pretty damned crowded with belligerents
The area is rapidly filling up with the aircraft and missile systems of many nations. Turkey, Russia, France, Canada, Australia, and the United States all have planes in the air either over Syria or near Syrian airspace.
In response to the shoot-down, Russia is deploying its S-400 “Triumf” air defense missile systems (NATO name: “Growler”) to its Hmeymim air base near Latakia, Syria. Using three different missiles with varying ranges and an upgraded radar system, it can strike airborne targets up to 400 miles away.
All this hardware and manpower milling around in a very small place could cause things to get out of hand very, very quickly. The result could be old-fashioned nation-on-nation warfare. All it could take would be one more downed warplane.
One other thing to note: Past is not always prologue, but it’s interesting to consider that Russia and Turkey (in the guise of the Ottoman Empire) fought one of the longest conflicts in European history.
The Russo-Turkish Wars from the 16th century until the early 20th century included none other than Ivan the Terrible sending the so-called Astrakhan Expedition in 1569 to pound on 70,000 Turkish and Tatar soldiers, Peter the Great and his army capturing Azov in 1696, and Tsar Alexander II sending Russian troops into Ottoman territory in 1877 to protect Christians from Muslim subjugation.
Russian forces overwhelmingly prevailed over the Ottoman Turks during those wars.
You don’t see too many planes flying over Walt Disney World, but that will change on April 6 when the U.S. Navy Blue Angels make two flybys over the Magic Kingdom.
This isn’t the first time the performance squadron has graced the skies above Mickey’s place. The Blues did a flyby back in 2015, when six F/A-18 Hornets flew right over Main Street and performed a Delta Break in which they split into six different directions. The two planned flybys on April 6 will happen between 9:30 a.m.-10 a.m., according to the Disney Parks blog.
The Blue Angels are set to perform at the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland, Florida. They practice at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport on April 6 and April 7 and have performances on April 8 and April 9.
While they are based in Pensacola, the Blue Angels are making their first Florida appearance of the year. Their Air Force counterparts, the Thunderbirds, have already made two of their three planned air show appearances for 2017 ,having just performed at the Melbourne Air Space Show the weekend of April 1.
A highlight of that was the transportation of 87-year-old Buzz Aldrin, who can now say he’s walked on the moon and flown in a Thunderbird. They earlier performed at the TICO Warbird Airshow in Titusville, Florida, and had their own flyby of an American icon, when they took to the skies over Daytona International Speedway ahead of the Daytona 500.
The Thunderbirds finish their Florida schedule for 2017 with a stop up in the Panhandle for the Gulf Coast Salute at Tyndall Air Force Base on April 22-23.
The Blue Angels will make three more stops in the state stretching into November: the mid-summer Pensacola Beach Air Show on July 8, a two-day performance at Naval Air Station Jacksonville on Nov. 4-5 and the Homecoming Air Show at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Nov. 11-12. Air shows held at military bases are free.
The Sun ‘n Fun will also feature the French Air Force’s Patrouille de France Jet Demonstration Team, which this year is making its first U.S. appearances in 30 years.
Every Coastie has at least once been called a sailor, asked if they aren’t just a part of the Navy, or otherwise been compared to the Navy. Just as siblings don’t care to be compared to one another, the Coast Guard works to set itself apart in many ways, from uniforms to missions to rates.
In case you were wondering, here are 15 very important differences between the seaborne branches.
1. They have different bosses
The major difference between the Navy and the Coast Guard comes from the very top of either branch – the Navy is part of the Department of Defense, while the Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security. This allows the missions and structure of both branches to best serve the needs the country.
2. Their roster sizes are significantly different
U.S. Coast Guard Ensign Joshua Kitenko, boarding officer from the Coast Guard Cutter Forward, climbs down a ladder to board the cutter’s small boat, after a joint U.S. and Sierra Leone law enforcement boarding on a fishing vessel in the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Annie R. B. Elis.)
In the battle of Navy vs. Coast Guard, the Navy wins the heavyweight title. The Navy boasts 325,000 active duty and 107,000 reserve sailors, while the Coast Guard has just over 40,000 active duty personnel and 7,600 reservists.
3. Comparatively speaking, it rains money at the Navy Department
The Coast Guard’s entire budget for Fiscal Year 2015 was $9.8 billion, while the Navy’s was $148 billion.
4. They have different roles in combat
The Coast Guard’s role in combat has changed vastly over time. Since the early 1990’a and during the Gulf War, the Coast Guard’s combat role evolved to mostly port, maritime, and other asset security, as well as search and rescue. The Navy has a primarily defensive mission, prepared to fight back against a land-based or maritime enemy when called on.
5. The Coast Guard has more ships than you’d think (and more than the Navy)
The Coast Guard has nearly 200 cutters and 1400 small boats, while the Navy has 272 ships.
6. The Coast Guard paints operational aircraft orange
The Coast Guard is proud of its more than 200 aircraft, mainly consisting of the iconic orange and white helicopters. The Navy, on the other hand, has a fleet of more than 3,700 aircraft, making it the second largest air force in the world, second only to the US Air Force. (And the only orange Navy airplanes are trainers.)
7. If the Coast Guard’s missions make them ‘jacks of all trades,’ the Navy is a master of one
While the Navy serves to “maintain, train, and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.” The Coast Guard, on the other hand, has eleven missions ranging from marine safety to drug and migrant interdiction to icebreaking. Their missions range from saving someone in a sinking boat on the shores of San Diego to defense readiness in Bahrain.
8. USCG Rescue Swimmers are busier
While both the Coast Guard and Navy have a rate for rescue swimmers, the Coast Guard takes pride in having the unique ability for their Aviation Survival Technicians, also known as rescue swimmers, to save lives on a daily basis. ASTs serve with Coast Guard air stations, deploying with search and rescue operations to recover civilians from dangerous situations.
9. Coasties actually have more uniforms than the Navy
You can tell the difference just in looking at personnel – the Navy’s NWU are often made fun of for blending a sailor into the water, but the Coast Guard’s ODUs are no better. The Navy’s dress uniforms are also universally known, complete with the “Dixie Cup” cover, but the Coast Guard’s are primarily based off of the Air Forces, with a few exceptions including Officer Whites, based on the Navy’s. There are even Coast Guard units who wear the Navy’s Type IIIs.
10. Coasties are bit more specialized
Every branch has a different names for its occupational specialty – whether MOS, AFSC, or rate. The Coast Guard and Navy both share the name “rating” for their specialities. The Navy has nearly 90 specialized ratings, while the Coast Guard lumps theirs into just 21.
11. Basic Training for the Coast Guard is a lot harder than you think
Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Great Lakes Training Center relies on a process called “Sailorization” to turn civilians into sailors over the course of eight weeks. The Coast Guard’s boot camp was based on Marine Corps boot camp, but shortened from twelve to eight weeks. Recruits are purposefully stressed to the maximum they can handle through intense and constant time pressure, sleep deprivation, and physical training. The process allows recruits to learn how to make the best decisions under the most pressure – something necessary when attempting to save a life on a sinking ship in foul weather.
12. The Coast Guard filled in for the Navy after it was disbanded
The history of the branches isn’t what it always seems – While the Coast Guard’s history occasionally seems to be shrouded in mystery, it was founded as the Revenue Cutter Service on August 4, 1790. It has since been the longest continuous sea service in the United States. “But isn’t the Navy’s founding in 1775?” you might ask – and you would be correct. But shortly after the Revolutionary War ended, the Navy was disbanded, and was not reestablished until 1799, leaving the USRCS to serve the newly formed nation.
13. The USCG gets passed around a lot
The Navy has also been steadfastly its own branch of the military, as well as under the Department of Defense. The Coast Guard, on the other hand, has been under the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Transportation, Department of the Interior, the Department of Homeland Security, and yes, even under the Department of the Navy – five times.
14. Everyone has a chance to go to the Coast Guard Academy
Shown is an aerial view of the Coast Guard Academy with Hamilton Hall in center. (USCG photo by PA1 David Santos)
To apply to the U.S. Naval Academy, as well as the other service academies, a prospective student must be appointed by a member of the US Congress in addition to applying to USNA. The Coast Guard Academy, on the other hand, does not require congressional nomination, instead opening the applications to anyone and letting applicants be admitted solely on their own merit – both personal and academic.
15. Navy ships keep a supply of Coasties to maintain civil law and order
On many Navy ships throughout the world, a small Coast Guard contingent is placed with the crew to do maritime law enforcement. Because of the Posse Comitatus Act, the Department of Defense may not do any kind of civilian law enforcement. The Coast Guard, thanks to the 1790 Tariff Act and the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2006, may conduct boardings of vessels both foreign and domestic without a warrant. On Navy ships stationed in waters where illegal drugs and migrants are common, the Coast Guard serves to assist the Navy where it cannot serve.
During World War II, military trainers had to quickly get recruits ready for combat on the front lines of Nazi Europe and the Pacific Theater. As a result, the U.S. Army created this infantry training video in 1943.
The video covers all of the major infantry weapons from their ammunition types and ballistic properties to how to best use each weapon in combat. It even shows how soldiers could make Molotov cocktails to take out tanks and the infantry could use 105mm howitzers, “the infantry’s bulldog.”
The film contains some great one-liners, including, “He’ll need more than aspirin after that,” while a Nazi mannequin takes .30-cal. rounds to the dome.
“Don’t think this pillbox is Heaven. The bazooka makes it Hell,” during the anti-tank rocket portion is pretty great as well.
The whole film runs through carbines, improvised weapons, mortars, anti-tank rifles and rockets, and more. It’s funny, but it also makes you think (about dying Nazis). Check it out below:
The Sherman tank was a powerful force to be reckoned with on the battlefields in WWII; it was fast and mobile and it shelled out plenty of firepower.
It provided just enough cover for American ground troops as it stomped through the German front lines. The Sherman was designed to patrol over enemy bridges and it was easily transported on railroad cars.
When the U.S. decided to invade Europe, General Patton selected the Sherman as his particular tank of choice and wanted as many to roll off the assembly lines as possible. Nearly fifty thousand were produced between 1942 and 1945.
Weighing in at 33 tons, it sustained a speed of 26 miles per hour and housed 2 inches of armor. Many saw the image of the Sherman tank to be invincible just like the American war effort, but the brave soldiers who served as tank crew members believed that it had too many engineering flaws and was far inferior compared to the German’s Tiger and Panther tanks.
The Sherman tank was equipped with a fully-transversing 75mm turret short barrelled gun that fired a high explosive shell 2,000 feet per second. Compared to the German tanks that shot accurately at 3,500 feet per second, the enemy’s armor piercing ammo was 2-3 times more effective.
It was recommended that to defeat the Germans, the tank crew had to speed up and flank around their battlefield rivalry and get within 600 yards range to be effective.
Captain Belton Y. Cooper, author of Death Traps and a member of the 3rd Armor Division maintenance unit, recounts knowing how inferior the Sherman was after seeing its physical destruction firsthand. He knew it was no match for the Nazi’s arsenal.
“We lost 648 tanks totally destroyed in combat, another 700 knocked out, repaired and put back into action,” Cooper says. “That’s 1,348 tanks knocked out in combat. I don’t think anyone took that kind of loss in the war.”
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
An F-35A Lightning II team parks the aircraft for the first time at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Feb. 8, 2016. The aircraft arrived at the base to conduct operational testing in order to determine its combat capabilities.
An A-10 Thunderbolt II takes off from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Jan. 28, 2016. The A-10 has excellent maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude, and is a highly accurate and survivable weapons delivery platform.
Senior Airman Daniel San Miguel, an aerospace propulsion journeyman with the 35th Maintenance Squadron, oversees an F110-GE-129 engine being tested during its afterburner phase at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Feb. 4, 2016. Each engine is tested multiple times for consistency and safety to ensure each engine has the capability to reach peak performance.
A U.S. Army paratrooper, assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, conducts airborne operations at Fort Hood, Texas, Feb. 9, 2016.
Army readiness is paramount to accomplishing a full range of military operations and winning the nation’s wars. The 82nd Airborne Division is a critical component of this requirement by being prepared to rapidly deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours or less.
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Javier Orona
Members of the U.S. Navy Parachute Team, the Leap Frogs, perform a drag plane during a training demonstration at Skydive Arizona. The Leap Frogs are in Arizona preparing for the 2016 show season.
Sailors assigned to the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) render honors to a column of Indian naval vessels to mark the conclusion of India’s International Fleet Review (IFR) 2016. IFR 2016 is an international military exercise hosted by the Indian Navy to help enhance mutual trust and confidence with navies from around the world. Antietam, forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
Capt. Robert Mortenson, a company commander with Black Sea Rotational Force, spends time with a Norwegian search-and-rescue dog during cold-weather training aboard Skoganvarre, Norway, Feb. 5, 2016.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Immanuel Johnson
U.S. Marines provide security for a Japan Ground Self Defense Force CH-47 Chinook during Forest Light 16-2 in Yausubetsu Training Area, Hokkaido, Japan, Feb. 1, 2016. The exercise strengthens military partnership, solidifies regional security agreements and improves individual and unit-level skills.
“I will maintain a guardian’s eye on my crew at all times, and keep a cool, yet deliberate, hand on the throttle.” – Coast Guard Surfman’s creed
U.S. Coast Guard crews work hard and train hard to be ready – regardless of weather conditions!
While Army National Guardsman Dennis Singleton was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan, Wells Fargo suddenly repossessed his car. Now Singleton is getting some retribution.
The Justice Department says the repossession was illegal under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which requires Wells Fargo to get a court order before repossessing a military member’s vehicle. DOJ also says the bank didn’t stop there. According to the Los Angeles Times‘ Jim Puzzanghera, Wells Fargo charged Singleton and his family a $10,000 balance and then reported the repossession to credit agencies.
Wells Fargo allegedly did the same thing 413 times, according to the Justice Department — more in a series of misdeeds and misuses of customer information that now has the bank and its CEO in hot water, especially with the U.S. Congress.
Wattles’ report says the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency also fined Wells Fargo $20 million for denying federally mandated protections for active duty military members, which includes capping interest rates at 6 percent.
“In those instances where some service members did not receive the appropriate benefits and protections, we did not live up to our commitment and we apologize,” the company said in a statement. “We have been notifying and fully compensating customers and will complete this work in 60 days.”
In its largest fine to date, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau fined Wells Fargo $185 million for opening 1.5 million fraudulent deposit accounts and more than 560,000 credit card accounts in its customers’ names. The bank repaid $5 million to its affected customers.
Since the story broke, Wells Fargo fired 5,300 of its employees, withheld $41 million of CEO John Stumpf’s unvested stock awards, and denied him an annual bonus as well as a chunk of his $2.8 million salary.
The New York Times reports that in recent years, the bank has paid $10 billion in fines for violations like subprime loan abuses, discrimination against African-American and Latino mortgage borrowers, and various home foreclosure violations.
With wearable technology, such as Google Glass or Recon Jet, shooters can stand behind a corner and still aim at a target. Not only does the sight stream from the rifle to wearable device, it also streams to mobile phones, tablets, and computers to anyone in the world over the Internet. This makes it easier to share your kills to Facebook rather than tasking your spotter to record video. Just sayin’.
Of course, while TrackingPoint makes real-life shooting seem easier than video game sniping, one should never take skills for granted. After all, it is technology, and technology breaks.
Here’s TrackingPoint’s streaming technology in action:
Yuri Drozdov, the Soviet spymaster who oversaw a sprawling network of KGB agents abroad, died on June 21. He was 91.
The Foreign Intelligence Service, a KGB successor agency known under its Russian acronym SVR, didn’t give the cause of Drozdov’s death or any other specifics in a terse statement.
Drozdov, a World War II veteran, joined the KGB in 1956 and was dispatched as a liaison officer with the East German secret police, the Stasi. In 1962, he took part in the exchange of Soviet undercover agent Rudolf Abel, convicted in the US, for downed American spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers.
Photo of the former chief of KGB Directorate “S” general Yuri Drozdov and a former soviet NOC Sergey Zhirnov at the office of consulting firm Namakon in Moscow. (Photo via of Wikimedia Commons)
The story was made into Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster “Bridge of Spies” in 2015 as well as the Soviet movie “The Shield and the Sword,” a 1968 classic that Russian President Vladimir Putin once said inspired him to join the KGB.
On June 21st, Putin himself offered condolences to Drozdov’s wife and two sons in a message published on the Kremlin’s website. Drozdov was “a legendary spy and an outstanding professional” who was also “an incredible person and true patriot,” Putin said.
Working under diplomatic cover, Drozdov served as the KGB resident in China in 1964-1968, and in the United States in 1975-1979.
In 1979, he came to head a KGB department overseeing a network of undercover agents abroad, the job he held until resigning in 1991. The agents who lived abroad under false identity were called “illegals” and were considered the elite of Soviet intelligence.
In December 1979, Drozdov led an operation to storm the palace of Afghan President Hafizullah Amin that paved the way for the Soviet invasion.
Drozdov also founded the KGB’s Vympel special forces unit intended for covert operations abroad.
The SVR praised Drozdov as a “real Russian officer, a warm-hearted person and a wise leader.”
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
U.S. Air National Guard Senior Airman Jeremy Johnson, 138th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Tulsa, OK, performs routine maintenance on an F-16’s critical components, Oct. 27, 2016.
A New York Air National Guard HC-130 Combat King II assigned to the 102nd Rescue Squadron lands on a dirt landing strip at Fort Polk, La., during Southern Strike 17, Oct. 27, 2016. SSTK 17 is a total force, multi-service training exercise hosted by the Mississippi Air National Guard’s Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., from Oct. 24 through Nov. 4, 2016. The exercise emphasizes air-to-air, air-to-ground and special operations forces training opportunities. These events are integrated into demanding hostile and asymmetric scenarios with actions from specialized ground forces and combat and mobility air forces.
Soldiers from 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade’s armament team, load ammunition and fuel at the forward rearming and refueling point before AH-64D Apaches conduct an aerial gunnery exercise, at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., Oct. 26.
U.S. Army Paratroopers Spc. Jordan Myer (Left) and Pfc. Justin Gilbert (Right) assigned to Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, firing rounds for training during exercise Silver Arrow Oct. 27, 2016, in Adazi, Latvia. The U.S. Army is participating in exercise Silver Arrow. Silver Arrow is a two-week long Latvian led exercise, which joins foreign Armed Forces units, in order to develop relationships and leverage Allied and partner nation capabilities preserving peace through strength. The exercise is part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a U.S. lead effort being conducted in Eastern Europe to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the collective security of NATO and dedication to enduring peace and stability in the region.
Petty Officer 3rd Class (AW) India Campbell fires a .50-caliber machine gun during a live-fire exercise on the fantail of the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). The live-fire exercise provided Weapons Department and Security Department personnel with small-arms proficiency training for the .50-caliber and M240B machine guns. Ronald Reagan, the Carrier Strike Group Five flagship, is on patrol supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
Members of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5, Platoon 503, embarked aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), descend a rope from an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter, assigned to the “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, onto the flight deck of the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) during a fast-rope and helicopter, visit, board, search and seizure (HVBSS) exercise. Barry is on patrol with Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG 5) in the Philippine Sea supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
Marines assigned to Bravo Battery,”Black Sheep,” 1st Battalion 12th Marine Regiment, dig holes to support the recoil of an M777A2 Howitzer during a direct fire training exercise, part of Lava Viper 17.1, at Range 13 aboard the Pohakuloa Training Area, on the big Island of Hawaii, Oct. 16, 2016. Lava Viper is an annual combined arms training exercise that integrates ground elements such as infantry and logistics, with indirect fire from artillery units as well as air support from the aviation element.
Three MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, fly west above the Pacific Ocean during scheduled flight operations after departing USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), Sept. 26, 2016. VMM-262 is the Aviation Combat Element for the 31st MEU, and features a variety of fixed-wing, rotary-wing, and tiltrotor aircraft.
Coast Guard Cutter Ocracoke sits at the pier at Naval Station Newport as the sun sets on Oct. 25, 2016, during the Coast Guard 1st District Cutter Roundup held in Newport, Rhode Island. The Ocracoke is an 87-foot patrol boat based in South Portland, Maine.
Coast Guard cuttermen from units across the First District train in The Damage Control Wet Trainer “Buttercup” in Newport, Rhode Island, Monday. Oct. 24, 2016. The junior enlisted crewmembers were together in Newport for a Cutter Roundup, a week-long event to unite, train, and prepare the First District’s cutter fleet.
Chalk up yet another win for Yankee rifle designs.
It turns out the culturally protective French military is set to ditch its iconic FAMAS rifle for a German-made M4 variant that’s a favorite among U.S. special operations forces and is based on the popular Stoner design American troops have used since the Vietnam War.
It’s easy to ID French troops using their unique, French-made FAMAS rifle. With its distinctive carry handguard, top-mounted charging handle, integral bipod, and bullpup action the FAMAS has become as Gallic as the Citroen automobile. But that’s about to change as its military is set to outfit troops with the Heckler Koch 416.
A Marine with Marine Rotational Force – Darwin and French Army soldiers with 92nd Infantry Regiment practice close quarters battles during a French Armed Forces Nautical Commando Course at Quartier Gribeauval, New Caledonia, August 15, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Carlos Cruz Jr.)
The FAMAS came in two versions: The original version, the FAMAS F1, fired the 5.56x45mm NATO round. Its proprietary 25-round magazine was mounted to the rear of the bolt, which allowed the rifle to be more compact but still have the ballistic advantage of a rifle-length barrel.
The FAMAS weighs just under 8 pounds, and had options for safe, single-shots, three-round burst, or full-auto (“Rock and roll”). It also came with an integral bipod. In the 1990s, the FAMAS was upgraded to the G2 standard. The biggest improvement was replacing the proprietary 25-round magazine with a NATO standard 30-round one. This made the French rifle interoperable with other NATO allies. The G2 was about eight ounces heavier than the F1.
The FAMAS had some export success, notably to the United Arab Emirates and Djibouti, but it also has seen service with the Tunisian Presidential Guard, Indonesian special operations forces, and the Philippine National Police. Over 700,000 FAMAS rifles were built.
But few militaries use the so-called “bullpup” design, most notably the U.K. and Australia with their L85 and Styer AUG rifles and the Israeli Defence Force with its Tavor.
The rifle replacing the FAMAS in French service will be the HK 416. This firearm is best known for being what members of the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), formerly known as SEAL Team Six, carried on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. The Army’s Delta Force (now known as the Combat Applications Group, or CAG) also is said to prefer this rifle for most of its operations.
The HK-416 is a conventional M4-style rifle design, featuring an adjustable stock with a standard rifle action in front of the grip and trigger. The rifle fires the 5.56x45mm NATO round, has a 30-shot mag, and weighs about 7 pounds. The advantage of the HK 416 as compared to the M4, for example, is that it uses a piston operating system, making it less susceptible to fouling and cooler running.
The HK-416 has been more widely exported. American units aside from DEVGRU and CAG that use versions of this rifle include the U.S. Border Patrol and the Marine Corps, which replaced some M249 Squad Automatic Weapons with M27 Infantry Automatic Rifles.
The German rifle is also used by French Air Force commandos, the Norwegian military, and many special operations units across the globe, including Germany’s GSG9 and KSK, the Army Ranger Wing of the Irish Defense Forces, and the Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei e Incursori Teseo Tesei of the Italian Navy.
In the pre-dawn darkness of December 11, 1917, thirteen American soldiers died together at the same moment, hanged in a mass execution on gallows that were immediately torn back down to lumber so other soldiers wouldn’t see them. If you serve in the military today, your life is better because of that morning, and because of the debate that followed. Samuel Ansell left the Army nearly a hundred years ago, and he might save your life one day.
The men who died on December 11 were black privates and NCOs, infantrymen who served together under white officers in the segregated 24th Infantry Regiment. Earlier that year, in the spring of 1917, they had been sent to Texas to guard army facilities as the United States went to war in Europe. Posted outside Houston, the men of the 24th collided with Jim Crow laws and the social customs that went with them. By mid-August, arguments were nearly turning into fights, and a white laborer on Camp Logan stabbed a black civilian to death in the payroll line.
On August 23, two Houston police officers saw a group of black teenagers shooting craps on a city street, and tried to arrest them for illegal gambling. The teenagers ran, and the police chased them, bursting into homes in an African-American neighborhood. A black woman named Sara Travers complained, and a pair of white policemen dragged her outside, half-dressed, to arrest her. Watching white police rough up a black woman, a soldier from the 3/24 in the city on a pass stepped forward and told them to stop. They beat him and took him to jail. Soon after, an NCO from the 2/24 approached the officers and demanded an explanation for the beating and the arrest. At that point, Officer Lee Sparks pulled his revolver out and began to beat Cpl. Charlies Baltimore over the head with it – then fired at his back as he ran away, before catching up to him and hauling him away to jail, too.
It was the moment when the arguments ended and the fighting began. Back at Camp Logan, a group of about 100 soldiers stormed an ammunition tent, loaded rifles, and went into town to find the police officers who had beaten and shot at their fellow infantrymen. They found them. At the end of a running gun battle, nineteen people were dead: Fifteen of them white, including police officers, and four black soldiers.
The courts-martial that followed were a joke, mass trials meant to placate infuriated Texas politicians. Sixty-three men were tried before the first of three courts, with single witnesses casually implicating dozens of defendants and men being convicted on the strength of testimony that had flatly misidentified them in court. For their defense, they were represented by an infantry officer with no legal training. On November 29, returning guilty verdicts by the box lot, the court sentenced 13 defendants to death. Facing local pressure, the convening authority, Maj. Gen. John Rickman, approved the verdicts and scheduled the executions – on his own authority, without seeking approval from the Army or the War Department.
The 13 men were simultaneously hanged on December 11 at 7:17 a.m. local time — one minute before sunrise — in the presence of U.S. Army officers and one local official, County Sheriff John Tobin.
It was the event that kicked off the debate about military justice during World War I: American soldiers were being killed by their own army without any kind of legal review or approval by national authorities.
Incredibly, the War Department issued a general order forbidding local commanders to put soldiers to death before the Judge Advocate General and the president had a chance to review their convictions – an obvious expectation that was only imposed for the first time in the second decade of the 20th century. Imagine serving in an army that could put you in front of the firing squad or put a noose around your neck a few days after a shoddy trial, with no one checking to make sure you hadn’t just been railroaded. That was a possible feature of military experience for the first century and a half of our history.
The War Department order was just in time. While the court-martial in Texas was delivering its sentences, drumhead courts-martial at the front in France were sentencing four other privates to death. Jeff Cook and Forest Sebastian had fallen asleep on guard duty on the front line, slumped forward against the trenches, while Olon Ledoyen and Stanley Fishback refused an order to drill. All four had even less of a trial than the soldiers of the 24th Infantry. Ledoyen and Fishback were represented in their defense by an infantry lieutenant who was pulled from the line for the job. Shrugging, he told them both to just plead guilty and hope for the best. All four trials took somewhere in the neighborhood of a few minutes, with little to no testimony, argument, or deliberation.
This is where our contemporary military justice system was born. In Washington, the Army had two top legal officers. The Judge Advocate General, Maj. Gen. Enoch Crowder, was temporarily assigned to other wartime duties, so Brig. Gen. Samuel Ansell was the acting JAG; both thought of themselves as the Army’s top legal officer. The two men had completely different reactions to the trials in Texas and France, and a totally different view of the way courts-martial were supposed to work. Their argument – the “Ansell-Crowder dispute” – kicked off a full century of debate.
To Crowder, the purpose of a court-martial was discipline and good military order, and the results of a trial could only merit objections from army lawyers if blatant unfairness screamed from the record of the proceedings. Commanders needed near-absolute latitude to deliver the punishments inflicted by courts, and the JAG office had little to no reason to interfere. If the army’s lawyers objected to the death sentences in France, Crowder warned, Pershing would believe that his authority had been undermined in a critical matter involving his command.
But to Ansell, courts-martial had to be courts. They needed standards of evidence and reasonable rules about due process, and the outcome of a military trial could become illegitimate when courts broke rules. The acting JAG and the circle of reformers around him tore into the records of the courts-martial in France – finding, for example, that Cook and Sebastian had gone four days with almost no sleep at all, but their courts-martial had taken no notice of those extenuating circumstances in delivering death sentences. “These cases were not well tried,” Ansell wrote.
President Woodrow Wilson agreed with Ansell and pardoned all four men. Sebastian died in combat soon afterward, fighting with courage, and Wilson told War Department officials that he was glad to have given a soldier a chance to redeem himself.
Then the war ended, and the argument got serious. Ansell presented a long report to Congress, detailing a series of proposals for changes in the Articles of War, the pre-UCMJ law that governed the army. He especially wanted to see the law adopt some form of mandatory post-conviction legal review, creating an appellate authority that had the direct power to overturn bad convictions. But Crowder eased him out of the office, arranging a job for Ansell at a law firm before telling him that he was done in the army. As Congress prepared to vote on Ansell’s proposed reforms, Crowder – back at his regular duties as the army JAG – gave his congressional allies a set of more modest changes. In an amendment to the pending legislation, they swapped out Ansell’s reforms for Crowder’s, and the law passed.
Even as Crowder won, though, Ansell had forced a more serious set of reforms on the army than his adversaries had wanted to see. Among the changes to the laws governing the army in 1920, Congress created boards of review for the first time. A retired JAG officer, Lawrence J. Morris, calls those boards “the first step toward a formal appellate process.” Another change required courts-martial to reach unanimous agreement to impose the death penalty, where the previous Articles of War had only required a two-thirds majority vote to put a soldier to death.
Ansell began the long effort to make courts-martial into true courts, giving soldiers some degree of due process protection. And he planted the seeds for all of the debates that have followed. After World War II, when Congress and the newly created Department of Defense decided to pursue the more serious reforms that led to the creation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the person who led the effort was a law school professor, Edmund Morgan – who had spent World War I in uniform, working for Ansell in the office of the Judge Advocate General.
Injustice led to justice. Your legal rights before the military justice system today – including your right to a trial that isn’t tainted by unlawful command influence, your right to be represented by a lawyer, and your right to appeal serious convictions to real military appellate courts – were born in a field outside Houston in 1917. Arguing over the death of soldiers, Samuel Ansell and the generation of army lawyers who served alongside him began to make military justice a far better system for everyone who followed. They were patriots who served their country with honor and left it a better place.
Chris Bray is the author of “Court-Martial: How Military Justice Has Shaped America from the Revolution to 9/11 and Beyond,” published last month by W.W. Norton.